Scott C. Jarzombek spent his formative years as part of the hardcore scene in the '90s and '00s. Perhaps best known as the vocalist of Long Island hardcore outfit Tripface, he also played in the bands Coercion, Lariat, and Burning Bridges.
These days, Scott is Executive Director of the Albany Public Library, so I thought that was an interesting thing to find about. I'm always intrigued by the different career paths folks from the underground music community take, and how it might inform their decisions. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Scott about his early hardcore days and current career.
For me, exposure to rock magazines like Creem and Hit Parader is how I first became a voracious reader as a little kid. I know you had an early interest in history books. Tell me a bit about that and your love for comic books growing up.
I had a learning disability, well I still do, and I struggled early on with reading. The combination of words and images in comics helped me learn. My town had a pretty cool comic shop for a few years and I would spend hours there. Those guys loved me, and they were big Alan Moore fans. I was super into his Batman work, The Killing Joke. When V for Vendetta got rereleased by DC it was magically on my pull list. I was a standard Marvel fan, but those DC comics blew my mind, then I started grabbing back issues of the Watchmen and my entire world view was changed.
As for history, my father really really loved history. I grew up watching the World at War and reading books about the Old West. For kids out by us, the military felt like the only career option. The library was just full of “army” books. I spent a lot of time in the history section learning about World War II and Vietnam. My undergraduate is a double major in history and secondary education. Originally I was going to be a history teacher.
What was your entry into hardcore? We both got to experience the ‘90s LIHC scene and I think it was a truly special time and place.
Riverhead, where I grew up, is on the eastern end of Long Island. At the time was a rural farm community with a small town vibe. Very different from the Long Island most people think of. We were out in the “sticks.” NYC, although only an hour and change away seemed like a whole other universe.
I grew up on new wave and post-punk because of my older sister. Most of my friends were metalheads. We were always looking for something harder, all of us were angry for one reason or another. We all had something screwed up in our home life. One night on MTV’s 120 Minutes they showed a scene from The Beat, It was the Cro-Mags. I bought The Age of Quarrel the next day. That led to Agnostic Front, Suicidal Tendencies, Crumbsuckers, and Corrosion of Conformity.
They looked and dressed like us (army surplus + flannels). Unlike punk we didn’t have to change our aesthetics, we didn't have to buy new clothes (that some of us couldn't afford to) to dress the part. Those guys looked like us. When you are 12 or 13 that’s really important. The crossover was huge for us because the punk, skate, and metal kids had bands we could agree on, it united the weird kids who hung together out of necessity.
A few years later, one of us ordered the In-Effect sampler. We also discovered WNHU, a college station out of Connecticut. They played a lot of hardcore in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In 91’ I finally got the guts up to go to an actual show, at the time using public transportation to get from Riverhead to NYC was an adventure. It was Sheer Terror and Killing Time at the Marquee. After that, I was hooked.
We always felt like outsiders, and that was cool. It took us a few years to plug into the LI scene, but once we did we would go to anything remotely close to a “show.” It didn't matter the style. We skipped school to see Garden Variety play Suffolk Community College’s cafeteria during lunch. We took weekly trips to None of the Above Records, not just to buy records but to find out about shows and just meet people. I think there were lots of little pockets on the Island like ours. That, in the end is what made the '90s Long Island scene so amazing. It was such a diverse and eclectic scene because places like the PWAC brought together a bunch of kids who had been doing their own thing.
When did you decide to pursue a career in Library Science? Did you have someone that mentored you about that, or did you go into college with blinders on?
I was working on my undergrad, and running an after school program in Hartford, CT. Tripface was done and I broke edge. I was in a weird spot in my life. I even took a break from going to shows. For some reason, I decided not to do student teaching, so job prospects looked bleak.
I also worked nights at the college library, and the director there took me under her wing. She asked me what I was doing after graduation, and I had no idea. She mentioned library school and I figured that was the next logical step. Albany had a program, and I still kept in touch with the guys I made friends with when we played there. 20 years later, here I am raising a family in Albany and running its public library.
You kept a busy music-related schedule throughout your schooling and early career. Was that a tough task to take on? How did you balance everything?
I think I graduated undergrad with a pretty good GPA and I have no idea how. Most of my time in college I was in Tripface and Coercion, and I played a lot of shows. I didn’t sleep, I studied in the van. I had pretty bad social anxiety. Sometimes sneaking back to the van and studying helped. Coercion travel as much, the singer went to Cooper Union, the guitar player NYU, and the drummer had a full-time job. College or career was first for most of that band, which was refreshing.
Grad school was the same way. Lariat and Burning Bridges played a bunch, but somehow I made time and eeked out a master's degree. The guys in both bands were super supportive. I was also working at my first library, they would pick me up from work or school and we would go play a show 3 hours away, it was insane. We would play weeknight shows out of town and they would just drop me off at my library and I would sleep on a couch in the children's room until it was time to open the library.
A few times I was offered to try out for or join bigger bands. I loved hardcore, but not music as a full-time thing. There were a couple of things I wish I had done, like toured Europe, but I am pretty happy with the path my life took.
You mentioned to me that there are other folks from the hardcore scene that you’ve come across that also work in your field.
There are a few people from the scene who are librarians now. For me, the punk ethos lives on in my library work. If you really listened to the message, there is definitely a theme of service. Some of us took that seriously. Librarianship was a way to “make a change.”
The majority of shows were in neighborhoods that struggled economically. It took a lot of kids out of their safe suburban or in our case rural bubble. If you were willing to look around you had a much more honest view of the world. There were also a lot of people in the scene itself who struggled with things like addiction and mental health. I think that prepared a bunch of us for work in social services. Librarianship is a good field to go into if you want to make a positive impact on society and still be creative.
Hardcore gave me a lot of skills I could port over to librarianship. Booking shows, making flyers… all of that helped with library programming. Laying out zines and demos made doing library newsletters easy. I would have never touched a computer if it wasn’t for the old hardcore newsgroups. Computers are what got me started in the field. I’ve got public speaking nailed, I just had to retrain myself on the proper way to hold a mic. Working with volatile personalities, hardcore taught me de-escalation skills before that was even a thing.
As someone who uses my local public library on a regular basis to get work done, I appreciate it and feel that it’s one of the most under-appreciated services that our country offers us. I would love your thoughts on that.
Riverhead at the time was a farm town, so being into comics, punk and skateboarding meant there was really only one place you could go and not get in a fight or messed with. That was the public library. When we weren’t skating that was our spot. As long as we were cool the adults didn't mess with us. I still see libraries filling that role for kids in all the communities I’ve worked in. The library is a spot for everyone, and we work really hard to keep it that way.
I think our communities would look really different without libraries. In the last 20 years, we have become a safety net. To me the most important issue we take ownership of is bridging the digital divide, people depend on us for the internet. When you see lines in front of the building they aren’t waiting for books. Storytimes, 3D printers, discussion groups, health exams, some libraries even work with free lunch programs over the summer. You name it, there is a library doing it. People love libraries, but they should really love library employees. The people who do an amazing job keeping everything going.
Every day, across the country thousands of people are visiting a library to be educated, entertained or empowered. Those numbers have grown, not diminished. People who know the library love it, and they also expect us to always be there. I do think we are a little under-appreciated. I’m OK with that. The fact we fly a little under the radar keeps us motivated and allows us the freedom to do the work we do. Library workers are the punks of civic government. I’m really happy to have taken the things I learned in hardcore and used them to do something positive.
It was great catching up with you, Scott. Good luck and thanks for all you do with the library work.
Thanks for doing this and doing your site. No Echo helps me keep tabs on something that meant a lot to me for a big part of my life. I don’t make it out to shows or stay involved, but I still pay attention. It makes me happy that hardcore still lives and in some places thrives.